Call for Student Loans in Africa: Supporting Less Advantaged Students to Access Higher Education

Uganda is set to join East Africa counterparts Kenya and Tanzania to provide loans to students to study in Higher Institutions of learning.

Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports is considering giving students joining university loans to pay fees as one of the ways to increase equitable access to higher education. The Minister of Education and Sports, Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire told the Parliamentary Committee on Social Services on Tuesday that this is part of the 10-year Education Sector Strategic Plan.

“Our target is to increase access to higher education. Having increased access to primary and now secondary education, it is important that we start planning how to increase access to higher education,” Bitamazire said on Tuesday.

Less Advantaged in Africa need Loans for Education

The minister’s announcement follows calls by academicians attending the Women Affairs Ministers Meeting (WAMM) in Kampala to governments and universities in Africa to consider giving student loans in order to increase access to higher education by disadvantaged groups like women, the poor and those from rural areas who find it hard to compete equitably for the 5, 000 government scholarships in the now 5 public universities of Makerere, Gulu, Mbarara, Kyambogo, and Busitema.

Presenting a paper on Affirmative Action and Financing Women’s Education, Prof. Joy Kwesiga, the Vice Chancellor of Kabale University said that student loans can be an effective avenue to enable bright students from rural areas, poor families and females to get higher education.

Some people however see the latest move by government as an excuse for its planned decrease to fund higher education in favour of primary and secondary education.

Others however argue that apart from ensuring that the beneficiaries of higher education and training meet part of their education in the face of limited resources at government’s disposal, student loans promote equality of opportunity to qualified students irrespective of their background circumstances.

Best Form of Affirmative Action in Education

“Student loans are a fair institution to finance bright but disadvantaged students to access higher education. Governments and Universities can provide bank guarantees and ways of claiming back the money. They can work with the private sector to find work for those who get the loans so that they can pay back the money,” Kwesiga told in an interview.

A Visitation Committee instituted by President Yoweri Museveni last year to find ways of improving education in Uganda’s Universities also recommended that government should introduce the Student Loans Scheme immediately.

“An equitable standard loan scheme based on those operating successfully in counties such as Ghana, UK, Canada and Kenya would ensure access to university education by all qualified students irrespective of their income,” the committee said in their report submitted to President Museveni recently.

Neighboring Kenya has been running a University Students’ Loan Scheme (USLS) which benefits both students studying in government and private universities. But some people are worried that Uganda’s experience with the Entandikwa Scheme where people countrywide were borrowed money and they never paid pack might replicate in the Student Loans Scheme.

Ensuring Education for Less Advantaged in Africa

During the 8WAMM, Cornelia Muganda, from the Open University of Tanzania says that they are already working on providing student loans in order to enable females and other disadvantaged students to get university education.

“In addition to student loans, we also run a bridging programme where we train women and people from rural schools who didn’t get direct entry to university so that they can be at par with others. These end up performing better than those who gained direct entry because they were from better schools,” Muganda said.

Prof. Kwesiga says that as most affirmative action policies to increase the number of females, the poor, and those from rural areas have become unpopular for not giving opportunity to all and many times benefiting the already advantaged, a student loans scheme is needed to ensure the disadvantaged access higher education.